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Monday, 17 September 1973
Page: 1037

Mr KELLY (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Does the Prime Minister realise that I attended his very interesting and informative Press conference last week in order to get information as a journalist which I cannot get as a member of Parliament? Does he also realise that he is for the time being chief custodian of the rights of Parliament? Is he aware that this practice of informing the Press of Government decisions before informing Parliament denigrates the position of Parliament? Will the Prime Minister use his influence to see whether procedures in this chamber can be altered to allow the Prime Minister, whoever he may be, to announce Government decisions before questions on at least one day a week so that members may hear of Government decisions directly and not second hand?

Mr WHITLAM - I was happy to see the honourable gentleman at my Press conference. He knows - I believe all honourable members know - that it has been my custom to have a Press conference on Tuesday, lt always takes place after there has been an intervening question time in the House and on those days, of course, that Parliament sits on Mondays as it does this week, after there have been 2 such intervening question times in the House.

Mr ANTHONY (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But we do not know what is in your mind.

Mr WHITLAM - I am not so innocent as to believe that honourable members do not ask their questions in the same way as members of the Press ask questions; that is on the basis of reports that appear in the newspapers or are heard on radio or television programs. Questions are always asked on the same basis. There is always one opportunity, and in every other week there will be 2 opportunities, for members of Parliament to ask questions before members of the Press ask questions.

Mr DONALD CAMERON (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - What - one question in 3 weeks?

Mr WHITLAM - Surely honourable gentlemen are not going to take it on themselves to say that no Prime Minister is to give a Press conference until members of Parliament have had the opportunity of asking every question that might be asked at a Press conference. I do not think the public will have a bar of that attitude. Members of Parliament can ask questions within the Standing Orders. If they do not have the initiative to raise some df these subjects then, of course, they cannot complain. True it is, as I said to the honourable gentleman at the Press conference, that I could resort to the device used by so many of my predecessors of getting one of my own supporters to ask me a question in reply to which I could announce some decision, but I believe that is a transparent device and generally an objectionable device , and I have not adopted it up to this stage.

As I told the honourable gentleman, in a very civil and friendly way at the Press conference, I will answer any question within the Standing Orders at question time just as freely as I will answer any question which is asked at a Press conference. I believe that questions to a Prime Minister should not be limited to those occasions when Parliament has exhausted its curiosity. At the Press conferences I do not announce matters of Government policy which have to come to the Parliament because those matters must naturally go first to the Government Party before they come to the Parliament. Obviously, where there are matters of well known Government policy - for instance, matters which are contained in the policy speech or in the Party platform, matters of general acceptance and knowledge I shall announce the timing of their introduction at a Press conference.

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